Monday, 21 May 2012

Passport palaver

It's been a day of complete frustration vis a vis trying to replace my passport. It's an urgent matter, as I am due to fly back to the UK from Geneva tomorrow. 

After ascertaining that nothing has been handed in to the Geneva Police lost and found, I set off by train for a two-hour journey to seek assistance from the consular section of the British Embassy in the Swiss capital, Berne.
Ironically, as I head to Gare Cornavin in Geneva to start the trip, the bus drops me almost at the exact spot where my bag was stolen on Saturday.

As I head north on my Swiss Railways double-decker train, my friend Michael has a frustrating conversation with the UK passport call centre in Birmingham. After a twenty minute delay, he makes progress, only to have the system crash. 'Call back later' is the customer unfriendly advice.
But he has ascertained that there is no way I can get a replacement passport in time for my next trip which is due to start next Tuesday.

At the British Embassy in Berne, I am not expected, but am allowed through the sophisticated security screening into the hallowed portal. Michael's best endeavours via the call centre have not resulted in me having an actual appointment. But I am the only person waiting and one of the consular staff agrees to see me. I discuss my options with her. An emergency passport can be issued, but I cannot then apply for another to get me out of the UK. Questions would, they say, have to be asked. So we resolve that my best bet is to stay in Europe while a full passport application can be processed.
So, Michael's wife Sally will pick up the application form in London on Thursday. I have the same photographs as appeared in my lost passport, so will send the completed application and the payment and countersigned photos back to my friends at home, who will attach my birth certificate and hand the package in to the post office for a seven day service. In theory, my new passport will then arrive in plenty of time to be with me in Switzerland for my journey home. Ironically, my stolen passport was one of the very first biometric passports to be issued in Madrid and I even have a photo of the then British Ambassador to Spain and the Consul General presenting me with it. Even more sadly, it is almost full, with a wonderful collection of irreplaceable visas and stamps.
Normally, I wouldn't even have had my passport with me, but my Swiss Flexi Pass required me to have it as identification. I am slightly concerned that I won't have it for my three-week InterRail journey. But I have the police report and a copy, so hopefully that will suffice.
But methinks there may be one or two more challenges ahead.
Russ, one of my chums, says I have been amazingly stoical over the matter. Outwardly, maybe so. But internally I am upset, frustrated and angry. The whole thing has been very distressing and had it not been for the understanding and support from both friends and complete strangers, I am not sure how I would have coped. Even Jamie, the South African girl at Swiss Airlines, told me to 'hang in there' when I called to explain why I wouldn't be flying out tomorrow. A Tunisian man who runs a bar in Geneva gave me half of his flaky pastry spinach and cheese pie after hearing my story. And Georges from the Geneva Police lost property department has been an absolute star. And of course my Facebook account has been filled with many messages of support.
So thanks to everyone who has helped me out. Your generosity and compassion has been overwhelming.

Berne, by the way, is lovely. I only spent an hour or so in the city, but it really does look worth a proper visit. The Swiss Parliament building dominates the skyline above the river, while there is an absolutely charming series of streets. And trams too!

Photos at:
The very best of 'Around the World - Backwards'